Being a successful change agent: models and techniques

change agent (CA) is someone who brings about change in another person, process, set of circumstances, group, environment, family, organization, institution, community, or theory. He or she can work for example, from the outside or the inside of a community, business, or organization, etc., to alter values, motivations, procedures, knowledge, communications, products, physical and psycho-social environments, and policies. A CA usually assists as a process helper, catalyst, resource linker, or solution giver.

Effective change agents are assisted by resources such as talent or skill, charisma, facts, techniques, access to funds, and access to influencers and key stakeholders. Internal change agents generally act in accordance with their prescribed roles or job description, whereas external change agents are paid a fee for their services by the employer. Exceptions for example, are government change agents who provide services to others, as part of their duties. The active relationship (duty or contract; ongoing or short-lived) between the CA and his or her audience/client, is called the interface.

The internal model of change has the following interface features:

  1. Objective and subjective factors tend to be minimized, due to familiarity;
  2. systems are task, human, structure, technology;
  3. functions are goal attainment, integration, adaptation, pattern-maintenance;
  4. agent brings knowledge, skill, loyalty/duty
  5. change time is relatively short;
  6. outcome bias tends to be high;
  7. knowledge is academically derived, or a reformulation of current;
  8. change impact is parochial/amorphous.


  1.  he knows the system;
  2. he speaks the language
  3. he understands the norms;
  4. he identifies with the system’s needs and goals;
  5. he is a familiar figure.


  1. he may lack perspective;
  2. he may lack the special knowledge or skill relevant to the innovation;
  3. he may not have an adequate power base to elicit support;
  4. he may have to live down his past failures;
  5. he may  not have the independence ofmovement within the organization;
  6. he may have to face the difficult task of redefining his on-going relationships with the other members of the system;
  7. he may place duty above reason.

The external model of change has the following interface features:

  1. objective and subjective factors tend to be maximized, due to unfamiliarity;
  2. systems are task, human, structure, technology;
  3. functions are goal attainment, integration, adaptation, pattern-maintenance;
  4. agent brings knowledge, skill, neutrality, motivation;
  5. change time is relatively long;
  6. outcome bias tends to be low;
  7. knowledge is acaademically derived, or a reformulation of current or new;
  8. change impact is substantively pervasive/durable.


  1. he starts fresh, unburdened by possible negative stereotypes;
  2. he is in a position to have perspective and objectivity;
  3. he may have access to a wider spectrum of resarch facilities and data
  4. he is independent of the power structure of his client system;
  5. he is in a position to bring to the interface, something genuinely new most of the time.

Available change strategies to both internal and external CAs:

  1. rational-technical (reasoning, data, majority vote, utopian thinking, instrumental);
  2. normative-reeducative (fosters personal growth, consensus, value change, norms, group process);
  3. power-coercive (strategies of non-violence, confrontation, edicts, manipulation).

CAs who have professional credentials, e.g., economist, community developer, mental health worker, psychologist, engineer, etc., may, in their idealizations of professional ideology, separate out several distinguishable, but often intermeshed, sets of activities. These are:

  1. researcher (emphasis on objectivity; experimental/laboratory; field surveys, sampling);
  2. ‘sociotherapist’ (emphasis on subjectivity; advocate/activist [action researcher]; enabler, catalyst, facilitator).

Professional CAs adhere to codes of ethics often supplied and proscribed, by their respective professional associations. These codes act as control devices, implicitly or explicitly, to protect the public, organizational members/clients, audiences, from exploitation or incompetent delivery of services.

I will write more on professional ethics in my next post. Feel free to contact me by email (


© Terry Hill, PhD



“Leaders are born – not made”

Many people believe this to be the case, that leadership qualities are inherent and will surface given the opportunity in the working world. However, more evidence leans in favour of the view that any normal person can be a leader, depending on time, place and circumstance. A usually quiet, shy individual in one group setting may be aggressive and loud in another group setting.

How and when a person shows leadership qualities depends on many factors, not the least of which are: his/her self-image, knowledge of a particular subject, peer support, his/her level of commitment to group goals or philosophy, age, past experiences with groups, community status, and so forth. It is entirely possible (witness the armed forces) to ‘train’ or teach others in the skills of leadership, but whether they use this added knowledge in a leadership role rests on the person’s willingness to try. There is no better instructor than practice.

Leaders develop styles over time and in the position they are given or inherit. Many of you are aware already what these styles are, but here is a refresher for those who forget or don’t know.

Types of leadership style

  1. the ‘front man’ – a group member who has skills at dealing with outsiders
  2. the ‘idea man’ – regularly suggests alternative routes to take
  3. the ‘inspirational figure’ – attempts to judge group functions morally
  4. the ‘wisdom purveyor’ – cites previous cases  of conflict and solutions
  5. the ‘expediter’ – an efficiency expert, concerned with time and process
  6. the ‘game leader’ – tries different ways to lift spirits with jokes, etc.
  7. the ‘master of technique’ – a systems expert, oriented around agenda

Some leadership functions associated with style

  1. Organization – structures his/her work and that of others
  2. Integration – manages, resolves conflict, creates a positive atmosphere
  3. Internal data management – helps information exchange and feedback
  4. Membership – makes sure he/she (and others) remains a member of the group
  5. Initiation – leader encourages new ideas and practices
  6. Gatekeeping – filters data entering and leaving the group
  7. Production – responsible for task accomplishment
  8. Reward – evaluates members’ behaviour and fosters a positive attitude
  9. Representation – defends the group from external threats; spokesman

There are many models of group development leaders work with, and you are probably familiar with some of these. They grew out of many management training manuals and leadership theories from the 1960s and 1970s, but still apply today. Growth direction is to the right >.

Model A. Inclusion > Control > Affection > Intimacy

Model B. Forming (testing and independence; attempts to identify task) > Storming (development of intragroup conflicts; emotional responses to task demands) > Norming (development of group cohesion, expression of opinions) > Performing (functional role-relatedness, emergence of solutions)

Model C. “Gimme” > “Gripe” > “Grope” > “Grasp”

In effect, what leaders in newly formed and continuous groups do, is: a) set the climate for discussion, b) develop structure for planning together, c) identify needs, d) state the objectives, goals or mission, e) design the methods to achieve these,  f) do it, as a group or team, and g) evaluate what you have done.

Finally, leaders who are experienced and successful, must deal with channels or networks of communication within the group (or organization) which are discernible but also which change over time. Networks have less to do with physical location of members than with manifest or latent opportunities to communicate. From formal meetings that are set up, to at the water-cooler gossip sessions, networks can influence more or less, the quality of decisions made, member satisfaction, and overall group or corporate efficiency.

More next time about conflict resolution caused by communication breakdowns.